Govt without go-ahead for uni application process for now

Ljubljana – The government has not yet okayed this year’s call for applications to enrol in university courses in what the Slovenian Student Organisation (ŠOS) sees as an encroachment upon tertiary education autonomy. The University of Ljubljana management thinks the procedure could be jeopardised, a risk Prime Minister Janez Janša dismissed.

The government did not give its consent to the release of Slovenia’s call for enrolment into tertiary education institutions for the student year 2021-2022 at Thursday’s session.

According to Janša, the issue is of strategic nature, taking into account youth employability, and will have to be discussed by the relevant committee prior to the government’s decision.

At today’s briefing the prime minister went on to say that the government had not yet discussed the matter due to a lack of time since the Education Ministry had submitted the relevant documents only a few days ago and there was no time for the issue to be debated by the government committee in the first place.

A list of items currently being discussed by the government shows that the application call proposal was released a week ago.

Janša said at the briefing that the proposal would be discussed by the government next week.

The higher education act sets down that the institutions publish the call at least six months prior to the start of the student year, meaning on 1 April at the latest.

Time is running out though as the relevant timeline envisages the deadline to be set around 1 February.

The news of the developments comes as a shock to the chancellors of Slovenia’s public universities, they said after today’s Chancellors’ Conference.

The chancellor of the University of Maribor, Zdravko Kavčič, who also chairs the conference, warned that the entire enrolment process hinged on the 1 February deadline.

Students should have enough time to decide on their academic path so any delays in this process, even if they have a legal basis, directly harm the entire generation of senior secondary school students, he noted.

On top of all Covid-related challenges, they are now facing uncertainties regarding the number of course vacancies that could not be resolved at the coming university open days, he said, calling for the proposal to be given a go-ahead as soon as possible.

If there is anything wrong with the current system, such shortcomings could be discussed, Ljubljana University Chancellor Igor Papič said, warning that the procedural timeline should be heeded though.

“I really don’t understand why we’re doing this to the young. Let’s be sensible,” he urged.

Their calls have been joined by Chancellor of University of Primorska Klavdija Kutnar and Nova Gorica University Pro-Chancellor Mladen Franko.

Kutnar noted that the developments put public universities on an unequal footing with private ones since the latter are not required to get the government’s green light.

Addressing a letter to the government’s secretary general Božo Predalič, she also inquired about the matter on Thursday in her capacity as the head of the higher education council, however she has not yet received a reply.

Papič told the newspaper Dnevnik today that this step by the government could have serious consequences as the entire 2021-2022 enrolment process could be at risk.

The left-leaning think-tank Alternative Academy concurred with him in a press release, saying that the developments were a brutal and dangerous dismantling of universities.

Janša meanwhile denied that today, first on Twitter and then at the briefing, saying that the procedure had not been blocked or jeopardised.

Since the proposal has not yet been discussed, the government could not tell whether it is good or bad, he added.

On the social media platform he wrote today that to discuss the proposal, the relevant committee required data on staffing needs of the business and public sectors and the state in general.

The labour market needs are of course part of the criteria relevant for preparing courses and setting the number of course vacancies, however they are not the only or the most vital criterion, said the ŠOS in a press release, adding that the government “has made the already challenging year even more difficult for all the students at uni and secondary schools”.

The organisation noted that the government had not discussed the call even though it had been coordinated by stakeholders and the ministry.

Based on experience, the ŠOS expects that the number of vacancies will be restricted mostly in terms of liberal arts courses at public universities and that enrolment in private tertiary institutions will be promoted, which according to the organisation is not effective and is not related to the needs of the market.

The prime minister meanwhile told the briefing that vacancies could not be based on wishes expressed by those managing public faculties. The matter is the state’s strategic development document that should be taken very seriously, he highlighted.

It makes no sense to pledge to become digital, green, advanced and innovative if we then fail to enable a sufficient number of youths to enrol in courses training for essential professions of the future, he noted.

Janša also posted on Twitter that the proposal envisaged the bulk of vacancies in liberal arts (39%), followed by science and technology (37%).

Responding to his statements, the chancellors said that the situation also depended on the available staff and the faculties’ infrastructure, noting that it was hard to predict which professions would be essential in five years’ time.

They also denied they could be responsible for any delays in the procedure.

At the briefing the prime minister said that he had instructed Education Minister Simona Kustec to look into the reasons for the proposal being submitted behind schedule and to sanction those responsible for this.

The Labour Ministry has been urged to present the staffing needs by the time the government is to discuss the proposal, he added.

The higher education trade union meanwhile addressed a letter to Kustec, voicing concern over the developments and highlighting it would oppose any potential attempts to destabilise public tertiary education institutions.

The trade union called on the minister to resolve the situation or step down.

The student councils of the Ljubljana, Maribor and Primorska universities are also condemning the fact that the government has not yet greenlit the proposal, warning about the ramifications of this. They think the government has thus indicated that education is no longer regarded as a public good.

The councils condemn any education-related restrictions and urge the government to include student university representatives in the discussion.

SVIZ, the main trade union of teachers, is also upset by the developments and expects the ministry to resolutely call for the government’s immediate go-ahead for the proposal.

The Education Ministry meanwhile told the STA later that it submitted the proposal on 22 January. In line with regulations, the matter will be first discussed by both relevant government committees on Tuesday and then at a government session, it added.

The government discusses the proposal and relevant documents every year, “the only difference this year is that the documents were submitted to the government too late to wrap up the discussion by 1 February”.

The opposition Left has announced it will request an emergency session of the parliamentary Education Committee to discuss the matter and other opposition parties intend to back this. The parties see the government’s step as yet another reason for tabling the ouster motion against Kustec.